- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000


DETROIT Pat Rapp's days as a starting pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles are probably numbered. The 33-year-old is an unlikely fit in the long-term plans of a club undergoing a massive youth movement.

But the right-hander did not give management too much ammunition last night to yank him from the Orioles' rotation. He pitched well enough to give his team a chance into the late innings. It was the sputtering offense that served as the culprit in a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers before 30,190 at Comerica Park.

Baltimore's failure to convert gave Detroit starter Brian Moehler time to work out his problems, and he did by tossing a complete game. Beleaguered slugger Juan Gonzalez delivered the fatal blow off Orioles starter Rapp (6-9) and Moehler did the rest with his second complete game of the season.

"We lost two good opportunities in the early innings to score runs," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said, "and Moehler shut us down after that."

The right-hander handed Baltimore (49-62) its third loss in four games as the Orioles continued to have the worst road record in the American League at 19-39. The Tigers (52-59) broke a two-game losing slide behind Moehler (8-7), who allowed eight hits, one walk and struck out seven. The Orioles' Melvin Mora matched a career-high with four hits in a surprisingly short American League game, which lasted a tidy two hours, 32 minutes.

It proved to be a bad omen for Baltimore when it failed to score in the first inning, despite having runners at second and third with no outs before Albert Belle, Delino DeShields and Jeff Conine failed to deliver. Baltimore left five runners on in the first three innings. In the second, the Orioles again failed to score despite having two on with one out.

The Tigers won the game thanks to a three-run inning in the fifth. The big blow was a two-run double into the right-field corner by Gonzalez to make it 2-1. Right fielder Belle got a late jump on the ball and had no chance.

"He just got something he could hit down the line," said Rapp, of the outside fastball driven to right.

Gonzalez's second hit in his last 19 at-bats came with the bases loaded. Deivi Cruz led off with a single through the right side of the infield, Damion Easley walked and Billy McMillon reached on catcher's interference when Brook Fordyce's glove got in the way of the swinging bat. McMillon scored on Dean Palmer's sacrifice fly.

Though Belle probably would not have had a chance even with a good break, the outfielder showed why he is a defensive liability. Belle, who turns 34 on Aug. 25, has been under scrutiny for his erratic fielding, and has spent more time as the designated hitter lately.

Rapp, a right-hander from Louisiana, allowed three earned runs and four walks over seven innings. It was good enough to keep things close, even if he is likely to soon lose his starting spot as a victim of the new youth brigade.

"I guess until Syd [Thrift, Baltimore's vice president of baseball operations] is ready to make a move with younger pitchers, I am going to start," said Rapp, who signed with the Orioles as a free agent in the offseason. "If not, I'll be in the bullpen or I'll be home."

The Orioles have an option to bring Rapp back next season, but are unlikely to exercise it. Rookie Jason Johnson, 26, is expected to join the rotation in the next several weeks.

Detroit padded its lead on Easley's lead-off homer in the seventh to make it 4-1. His eighth homer of the season landed four rows deep into the left-field seats.

The loss took away from a productive night by Baltimore shortstop Mora, who went 4-for-4 and scored the Orioles' only run in the second inning on an RBI groundout by Belle. It was the second four-hit game of his career, the first coming on June 25 when he played for the New York Mets against Pittsburgh. Mora was traded to Baltimore last month for Mike Bordick, and is hitting .444 (20-for-45) since the swap.

Belle showed little life and lots of frustration in an 0-for-4 evening. The slumping slugger also went 0-for-4 on Monday, and has just 11 hits (.183 average) in his last 60 at-bats.

He showed his disgust numerous times, including slamming the bat after flying out to second base with two runners in scoring position in the first. In the third inning, he fouled out to the catcher and walked off the field while the ball was still in the air. The once-powerful clean-up hitter did not hit a ball out of the infield and struck out once.

"It has a lot to do with his hip," said Hargrove, of Belle's nagging injury. "It has something to do with he's having a hard time, and we aren't protecting him in the lineup."

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